Freud’s Couch, Scott’s Buttocks, Bronte’s Grave

What a title! It’s the title of the book I have just finished reading. It was written by Simon Goldhill. He’s Professor of Greek Literature and Culture and Fellow and Director of Studies in Classics at King’s College, Cambridge and in addition he is Director of the Cambridge Victorian Studies Group.

But despite all his academic qualifications the book is very readable and very personal to him. His premise is to visit the homes of authors to discover what it is that attracts pilgrims to want to visit these houses and to try to find out just what they get from such visits.

Encouraged by his publisher to “do something Victorian” he plumped for visiting writers’ houses but is extremely sceptical about his proposed ‘pilgrimage’.  Apparently, such a tour was a very Victorian pastime and in the first chapter, “The Golden Ticket”, he tells of his intention to travel in as near a Victorian manner as possible and that unlike pilgrims he doesn’t wish to travel alone but with his wife and friends. Finally he lists which properties he’ll visit. He chose Sir Walter Scott’s Abbotsford in the Scottish Borders; Dove Cottage and Rydal Mount, William Wordsworth’s homes in the Lake District; the Bronte Parsonage at Haworth, here in West Yorkshire; William Shakespeare’s Birthplace in Stratford upon Avon; and finally, Freud’s House in Hampstead.

My impression after reading this book was that SG felt justified in his initial reaction that visiting writers’ homes was a pointless exercise and that the house/writer that got it most ‘right’ was Sir Walter Scott who built the house and decorated it intentionally in order to promote himself and his novels. His description of the visit to Abbotsford (and that of A. N. Wilson in my copy of Writers and their Homes) has encouraged me add it to my ‘list’.

“Abbotsford!” so writes A. N. Wilson “There is perhaps no writer’s house more expressive of its occupant’s literary personality. Indeed, one could say that Abbotsford was an extension of Scott’s oeuvre –an architectural Waverley novel, or a poem in stone of Border life and history.”

I love to visit authors’ homes but I never before thought of myself as a pilgrim. I suppose I like to visit houses full stop and the added attraction of it being an author’s home is that I can experience the atmosphere and see the surroundings that may (or may not) have influenced his or her work.

I have several books to help me in my choice of ‘pilgrimage’ to writers’ houses!

I would make quite a different choice for my own tour: Lamb House in Rye (Henry James); The Boat House at Laugharne (Dylan Thomas); Monk’s House at Rodmell in East Sussex; Kipling’s Bateman’s also in East Sussex; Thomas Hardy’s Higher Bockhampton and Max Gate, Dorchester.

Here are five that I have visited in the last few years :

Shandy Hall, Coxwold, North Yorkshire (Tristram Shandy)

Keats House, Hampstead, London (John Keats)

Greenway, River Dart, Devon (Agatha Christie)

Newstead Abbey, Nottinghamshire (Lord Byron)

Johnson’s House, City of London (Dr Samuel Johnson)


10 comments on “Freud’s Couch, Scott’s Buttocks, Bronte’s Grave

  1. Like your choices very much, though I’m in Hampstead right now visiting my daughter and have yet to go to Freud’s Museum so really should. I love Dr Johnson’s House and the Hardy homes. I was forced to drive right by Shandy Hall when I was in Yorkshire due to lack of time, but would love to go back.

    • My son lives in Hampstead and although I rushed to visit Keats House I still haven’t been to Freud’s even though it is near his place. I feel another visit to Dr Johnson’s coming on from just looking at the website!

  2. ms6282 says:

    That certainly is agreat title! And you’ve provided some good ideas for houses with a literary connection to add to my list of places to visit. We’re planning on staying in Hampstead later this year and intend to go to see Keat’s and Freud’s houses.

    • Well there are so many literary and artistic connections in Hampstead one need not stray into town. Kenwood House is also worth a trip. Thank you for your comment.

      • ms6282 says:

        And there’s some notable Modernist architecture there too – including Goldfinger’s house (does that count as a literary connection?) which we visited about 18 months ago.

        We’ve decided to take an Autumn break there as it does seem like there is plenty to see and will make a change from the usual tourist hotspots in the Capital

  3. Not really but it is very interesting to do the tour and I haven’t been yet but Fenton House (also National Trust) also looks good. On one of my first visits I took a London Walks tour which fills you in with lots of the out-of-the-way places.

    Keats House, Keats Grove, NW3

    I’m sure you will have a good time and I look forward to reading about your discoveries.

  4. Barbara Tschirren says:

    …What an intersting book and it’s exciting to read your suggestions. I’d love to visit some of those places in England, but so far I’m looking forward to visiting the summerhouse of Thomas Mann in Nidden in July…

  5. […] most interesting room to me was Freud’s ground floor study and consulting room with his famous couch and the green chair in which he sat to listen to his patients baring their […]

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